The internet does not need solid facts to crucify you.
A steady rising flood of Twitter posts — sketchy as the actual details might be — will do the trick.
Which brings us to Joel Osteen, the smiling televangelist known for his prosperity gospel sermons and oatmeal-mushy theology.
In other words, Osteen deserves whatever criticism that that the Twitter nazi want to throw at him.
At this point, I should confess my own sin and admit how hard I laughed when I saw this tweet about Osteen and the Lakewood Church in Houston supposedly displaying their cold, hypocritical hearts by refusing to open their building to Hurricane Harvey victims:
On a more serious note, I interviewed Osteen and his wife, Victoria, for The Associated Press when Lakewood was planning to move into the Houston Rockets' old arena. They were kind to me and answered all my questions.
But back to the current controversy: What are the actual facts?
Check out this lede from the local newspaper — the Houston Chronicle:
Following claims from around the internet that Lakewood Church, and its leader, Joel Osteen, weren't doing anything for the victims of Tropical Storm Harvey, the organization is speaking out Monday night to try and set the record straight.
Two media giants, the New York Post and New York Daily News, gave credence to angry Twitter users and other media personalities questioning the megachurch for not opening its doors to people forced from their homes from flooding.
Don Iloff, spokesperson for Lakewood, told Chron.com late Monday night that the church has never been closed during Harvey and staff was instructed to aid anyone who came to their doors looking for help.
Did you catch that wording?: "claims from around the internet." Wow, that sourcing inspires confidence in the information! Yet this story is national news at CNN, ABC News, the Washington Post, USA Today and elsewhere.
For insight on Lakewood, I have found the Twitter feed of Christianity Today's Kate Shellnutt (a former Houston Chronicle religion writer whose flooding story I mentioned Monday) helpful:
My point is not that Osteen is a victim in this week's headlines — well, that's not my entire point. But my bigger point is this: In journalism (and perhaps even on Twitter), facts and context matter. Or at least they should.
For example, this paragraph at the end of the ABC story is interesting:
The church was previously active in relief efforts, including sheltering displaced victims during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
And this background from Billy Hallowell at Faithwire.com seems relevant:
Iloff said that the one detail being overlooked in the current narrative is that Lakewood has a “history of sheltering people,” pointing back to Tropical Storm Allison, which devastated the region back in 2001. The church, which was still in its former location and hadn’t yet moved to the arena, housed 3,000 people and became the largest shelter in the city.
It should be noted that, at the time, the Compaq Center (where Lakewood now resides) did cancel sports events in the wake of the tropical storm, with extensive flooding being reported by the Lawrence Journal-World.
So, flooding fears on the part of Osteen’s team weren’t exactly unfounded:
Hmmmmmm. OK. Whatever.
Did I mention that the internet does not need solid facts to crucify you?
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